In the crucible of our family my sister burned like molten steel. Once I saw her arms outspread her legs hanging limp and useless wet saliva dripping from her tongue. I screamed they surrounded her lifted her onto the sheets where she convulsed for hours traces of stain and guilt shattering her face my sister my sister cunning participant spectator victim inside the ugly family circle.
Her name was Josephine. No shortening to a rounder, softer sound like Josie or Jo was ever allowed her name was Josephine. Wide eyes alert for trouble a mouth that protruded too far lips too full for comfort. A skinny knock-kneed girl who stared so hard one day her eyes crossed locked and the full lips took on a slight tremor.
Her room was on the top floor a tiny place with a wooden ceiling that stared down at her. Yellow roses in her bedspread. A shiny dark floor at her feet. In the mornings she came to life early pounced awake before us ran to perch outside our door.
Her thin legs hop out of bed eyes crossed alert she slips down the stairs in the morning stillness. We are all asleep while she listens and waits. Who will greet her when the door opens who will smile give up the first of their morning love? Our father trips over her small body on his way to the bathroom. Through the crack in the door she watches our slow momma fall on her knees to pray.
She sits and waits. No one comes to lift her in their arms. The day is over. But tomorrow she will begin again, early early even earlier.
At breakfast she will not eat. Her head falls back eyes disappear deep inside their sockets while we watch. An angry mob of three we watch and wait. Then she comes back slowly her head comes forward eyes slip back into place she giggles a silly burble that pushes her lips out too far. Then our father sends her reeling a hard slap with all his might until the burble is gone she sits staring cross-eyed at the three of us a twisted smile jutting out her lips.
The day my father married my mother my sister was three years old. She trotted to the ceremony on skinny wings a beaky little bird pinned down by other memories, an earlier womb ancient kisses that sent her to bed and woke her up. Perched high on ancient shoulders she watched our father join himself to the pretty woman with the long old maid’s eyes the stiff cheeks and black hair piled high high high on her head. A balmy September day bright blue with trees and sky and Josephine sitting atop her perch like a beaky bird sniffing the air for an old melody a plumper rounder mommy once a plumper rounder mommy who sat by a window and died just sat by a window and died.